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St. George’s Council President: “Accusations Farthest Thing From The Truth”

In an August 20th email to parishioners of St. George’s Church in Troy Michigan, obtained by today, parish Council Chairman, Neil Norgrove, denied allegations of financial misconduct, calling the charges leveled earlier that day by the parish’s Treasurer, George Samra “the farthest thing from the truth.” While noting that the “Church’s accounting and bookeeping systems” could be “improved”, Norgrove did not agree to an audit as Samra requested, responding instead that “these questions could have and should have been resolved through Council members and Fr. Joseph”. The Council President defended both the priest, Fr. Joseph Antypas and Council member Walid Khalife, by staking “his reputation” on his assertion that “absolutely no money is being taken for anybody’s personal benefit.” As in Samra’s letter, Norgrove concluded by encouraging people to attend a parish meeting on Wednesday, August 26th.

Norgrove’s letter reads:
“My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I send this letter to ask those who are flooding the “e-mail air waves” to show restraint with the accusations of misappropriated funds and unethical dealings regarding Church business and St George Towers. These questions could have and should have been resolved through Council members and Fr Joseph. I do know for a fact there are those who would have Fr Joseph, Fr Aymen and Walid Khalife leave St George and “all would be well, we would thrive and folks would come swarming with their children back to church”.

Yea - right.

Fr Joseph has been responsible for the success of St George, it is his and his family’s life’s work. Father’s personal wealth is a problem for many. Jealousy, envy, how can someone be successful unless we give them our permission? Over and above the $72,000 a year we pay our priest (which includes housing allowance), we do not come close to Archdiocese guidelines, given to us several years ago. A $4000 minimum stipend with automatic cost of living increases, auto and auto insurance, maintenance and mileage, totaling not less than $400/month. Given what we don’t pay, Father should be riding a bike!  Whose business is it how much anyone’s personal wealth is if we have nothing to do with it??? Could we improve the accounting and bookkeeping systems of our Church --- absolutely.

Regarding Walid Khalife, though his actions may be abrupt at times, his heart is with St George and he is the cornerstone and pillar of our Church. The accusations of misdealings with the Towers are the farthest thing from the truth, and those who have taken the time to ask know the truth. With full Board knowledge and approval, Walid and Bill Swor, Jr were able to refinance the mortgage and save a great deal of money for Wyngate Management and the manditory maintenance fund, as required by HUD. There was a time we benefited from the Towers, not in cash but material items and services. A few years ago we received $3500 a month for spiritual counseling. No longer. Part of Father Aymen’s pay ($1000 or $1500 a month)
for computer services comes from the Towers --- THAT’S IT.

No longer can we monetarily benefit from the project unless we own it outright. Regarding that, HUD pays 70% of the operating cost, and any surplus’s goes into the remaining 30% paid by Wingate. If in fact we did own it, as was originally anticipated, we would be totally responsible for 100% of the cost. If there was a shortfall would we all contribute to fund it? I think not. A few of our “in house experts” may dispute this, but they would be wrong.

Mr Khalife does more for St George than any ten people combined without the need for recognition. I, for one, do appreciate working with Walid and seeing all he does for his Church.

So as not to make this too lengthy, I stake my reputation (what ever that’s worth) on the fact that there is absolutely no money being taken for anyone’s personal benefit. In fact, these accusations may be libelous, so please be careful, take a break and bring all your questions to the meeting
Wednesday evening.

Just to make it clear, Father Joseph and Walid Khalife have my complete support.

Your Unworthy Chairman, Neal Norgrove”

Three issues seem to be at the heart of the burgeoning controversy in Troy; governance, transparency and accountability.

One, referred to by both Samra and Norgrove, concerns the governance and finances of St. George’s Tower is a 205 unit subsidized senior housing (62+) facility built by the Church in nearby Clinton Township. According to 2007 Form 990 documents filed with the IRS, Fr. Anytpas is the President, Mr. Khalife is the Chairman and Mr. Norgrove is the Vice Chair of the facility’s governing board. Thirteen other directors are also listed, all of whom appear also to be Board members of St. George's Church.. The address for each Board member is given on this document as 2160 E. Maple Road in Troy - which is the address of St. George. Recently re-mortgaged in 2006 for almost $6 million, Mr. Samra questions who authorized the refinancing, why the facility appears to be making no money, and why it is paying Fr. Aymen, the second priest at the Church, (who is Fr. Antypas’ son-in-law) $1,000-$1,500 a month for computer services.

The issue of accountability concerns checks Mr. Samra infers bear the signature of Fr. Antypas and a long-time former parish treasurer - who was dead when the checks were signed and cashed.

Finally, the issue of transparency is raised as Mr. Samra, being the parish treasurer, has requested an audit in light of the concerns he has expressed. So far this request has been denied. Mr. Samra has since been removed from the Council, as has parish council member Mr. David Thomas, and Mr. Samra has been suspended from communion by Fr. Antypas. (Read that story here.)

- Mark Stokoe


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